Last week we started our Fighting Temptation series by looking at Jesus’ one-on-one battle against the devil. We watched him effortlessly defeat Satan’s attempt at trying to make him sin. Jesus is the Undisputed, Undefeated, Unblemished Champion against Temptation.
But maybe you also noticed that the battle had some cost for Jesus.
It cost him time with his friends.
It cost him a stress-free month.
It cost him a delicious meal for about 40 days.
Truth is that temptation costs…
Is it worth it?
A couple of years back one of the dads at Precious Lambs taught karate. With some encouragement, I tried it out. And I enjoyed it! I liked learning the proper way to punch. I enjoyed learning a few combos. I think I looked pretty good in the ghee.
But after about a month of training, the Sensei invited me to a sparring match against another gym. I wouldn’t do any sparring, but I could watch more experienced classmates in action. He said, “In the future, this could be you.”
So, I watched.
It looked pretty fun.
I thought, “I sure would like to do that.”
Until about 30 minutes in. One gentleman began a reverse turn while lifting up his back leg (almost parallel to his head). As he completed his revolution, he brought his heel down in a striking manner towards his opponent’s head. Now – his opponent was ready and put his arm up to block the heel kick.
He did everything right.
And I thought: “I think I’ve had enough karate…”
It cost too much.
Today we’ll examine fighting temptation when it costs. Our goal this morning is to identify those costs, compare them to the costs of NOT fighting temptation and get some motivation to keep fighting even when it costs. Before we do that, a prayer: Lord, strengthen us by the truth; your Word is truth. Open our eyes to see what you want us to see; our ears to hear what you want us to hear and our hearts to believe what you would have us believe. Amen.
I. The Costs of Fighting Temptation
The lesson for this morning comes from Philippians 3:17-21. A brief bit of background. This is from a letter written by a pastor named Paul to his former congregation in a city called Philippi. One of the key parts of the letter is to encourage the believers in Philippi to fight against temptation.
In 1:10 he says, “Be pure” and fight sexual temptation.
In 2:1-3 he says, “In humility consider others better than yourself” and fight selfish temptation.
In 2:14 he says, “Do everything without grumbling or arguing” and fight temptation to discord.
In 3:2 he says, “Watch out mutilators of the flesh” guys who taught you needed to be circumcised to be saved and fight the temptation of trusting your own works more than God.
All of this fighting temptation talk leads up to verse 17. Paul writes, “Join together in my example, brothers and sisters, and just as you have us as a model, keep your eyes on those who live as we do.”
Fight temptation like I, Paul, have fought temptation.
That sounds nice.
Paul was an apostle.
He fought temptation well.
It’d be good to fight like him.
Do you know what happened to Paul for fighting temptation?
I don’t know exactly how this letter got to the Philippians. But if it is anything like today, there’d be a return address up on in the corner of the envelope containing the letter. And…based on where Paul was when he wrote this, the return address would have said something like this:
Roman Inmate #1764
Roman Federal Prison
Rome, Italy 2761 Jailbird
And I bet the church thought:
Did we break some kind of legal code?
Is someone asking our church for money?
Did one of our youths from youth group get in a bunch of trouble?
It’s just your former pastor…
And yet Paul tells them! I’m in Chains for Christ!
“I’m in jail not because I fell to sin. But because I didn’t fall to sin.
Because I kept preaching the Word of God.
Because I kept telling others about Jesus.
Because I kept sharing the Gospel even when the temptation (and the temptation was great) even when the temptation was to stop sharing the Gospel.”
And now Paul tells the to join in his example, to fight temptation just like him.
But if I’m one of the Philippians reading this message, I’m not so sure!
Because if fighting temptation means going to prison, then…
Fighting temptation has a cost.
It costs you time with your family.
It costs you your job.
It costs you your freedom.
It costs you 6 am fresh coffee from Sola Coffee Café!
It’s like one of those commercials for a new drug. The voiceover tells you that this new, simple pill will allow you to grow back your hair in only 3 months. Everyone in the commercial looks happy. They all have a full head of hair. And you think: “Sure I’m interested. I’d love to get rid of my balding look.” Then, at the end of the commercial, there’s that part where they run through a few of the side effects in 10-point font:
Side effects include: nausea, headache, joint pain, dizziness, loss of sleep, too much sleep, loss of taste, loss of vision, loss of hearing and loss of hair.
Fighting temptation has side effects.
Fighting temptation has costs.
Here are a few common costs to fighting temptation
1) Earthly Relationships
I remember one time that I found a pretty good devotional. It was talking about a hot topic social issue. I posted this pretty good devotional on a hot topic social issue despite the temptation to maybe…move on. The result? I had a friend message me that if I ever did that again – he would block me. We wouldn’t be friends on Facebook.
Fighting temptation can cost you relationships.
“No, I won’t meet together for coffee and complaining anymore.” And they reply, “I guess you’re not our friend.”
“No, I won’t support your addiction and tell you that you don’t have a problem.” And they respond, “Okay. I’m done with you.”
“Significant other…I love you, but NO I won’t be sexually intimate with you until the promises of marriage.” And they say, “Well, then. You don’t love me. And we’re done here.”
2) Career Path
If you’re looking at Paul’s career strictly from an economic perspective, he made a big mistake by using his oratory skills to preach Jesus. Before he did that, he followed the Pharisees. He was an up and comer. Rich people liked him. He was a made man – a future leader in the city of Jerusalem. Thankfully Jesus intervened and taught Paul the truth – about what to believe and what to preach.
But then he taught about Jesus.
That landed him in jail.
Fighting Temptation can cost you your career path.
“No, I won’t fudge the numbers of my sales calls…and I’ll probably lose the promotion to the guy who does.”
“No, I won’t bad-mouth my coworkers…and I’ll probably lose the bonus to the guys who do.”
“No, I won’t hide my faith at work…and I’ll probably have to get a talking to from HR.”
3) Bodily Pleasure
Easy example. Think of the temptation to overeat. The temptation to have the third eclair is great! To say, “No!” comes with the cost of not having the pleasure of enjoying it.
Fighting temptation can cost you bodily pleasure.
“If I say NO to porn, it will cost me an excited feeling.”
“If I say NO to getting drunk, it’ll cost me a wonderful relaxation.”
“If I say NO to letting all of my rage out on that loser over there, then It’ll cost me the opportunity to get my stress out.”
4) Human Glory
For Paul, he lost all kinds of glory! He could have been something big. He could have been a guy that people walked by and said, “Now that guy’s impressive. He’s really good at following God’s laws. He’s so religious. He’s so holy.”
Instead? “That Paul guy is a loser.”
Fighting temptation can cost you human glory.
“If I say NO to racism and stop bad-mouthing people of another culture, it’ll make me feel inadequate because I won’t be able to distract people from my own flaws.”
“If I say NO to berating my wife, she might feel valuable and worthwhile to this family at the expense of me feeling like the sole provider!”
“If I say NO to pride, it’ll cost me all those people over there knowing how awesome I am!”
“If I say NO to making that funny dirty joke, all my grade school friends won’t think I’m cool anymore”
“If I say NO to drugs, all my high school friends will think I’m a loser.”
“If I say NO to supporting that sinful thing society says is “OK,” all my adult friends will think I’m a bigot.”
There is no doubt that Fighting Temptation comes with costs.
There is no doubt that Fighting Temptation will be painful.
There is no doubt that the temptation to not Fight Temptation is enticing.
II. The Cost of NOT Fighting
Before we give up on fighting temptation and give in to whatever sin is tempting us, we need to look at this from the other side.
We need to compare the cost of Fighting temptation with the cost of NOT fighting Temptation.
That’s exactly Paul’s next point. Look at what “not” fighting temptation costs:
For, as I have often told you before and now tell you again even with tears, many live as enemies of the cross of Christ. Their destiny is destruction, their god is their stomach, and their glory is in their shame. Their mind is set on earthly things. (v.18-20)
Did you catch it? Let’s break it apart to find some of the costs of not fighting temptation:
1) A Relationship with God
Specifically, Paul writes, “Many live as enemies of the cross of Christ.” (V.18) Before we said, a cost of fighting temptation is that you might lose some relationships: friends, family members, boyfriends, girlfriends, etc.
But if you stop fighting temptation and live in sin? You’ll forfeit your friendship with God.
And it isn’t that you’ll be an acquaintance or some guy on the bus that you have a neutral feeling with.
But you’ll be an enemy of God!
Why do that?
Why would you want to be an enemy of the One who gave his life for you to save you from sin and death?
Why would you want to be an enemy of the One who is all powerful? Who conquered death itself and will have no problem conquering YOU?
Understand: Giving up on Fighting Temptation means that you will be giving up on your relationship with God.
2) Eternal Path
Paul writes, “(Those people who don’t fight temptation) their destiny is destruction.” (v.19a) Contrast this with the loss of our career path.
Because “Yes,” fighting temptation may mean you lose out on the career prestige of this world, but NOT fighting temptation leads to a change in your eternal destiny.
Instead of the promise of eternal life forever in heaven?
It’s like a soda can. When you are done with a Pepsi, you might throw it on the ground and crush it. Destruction.
Do you really want your destiny to be the same as that of an aluminum 7-Up can?
That’s the cost of not fighting temptation.
3) Heavenly Pleasure
Paul writes, “Their god is their stomach.” (v.19b) Think about that. If your stomach is your ‘god,’ that means that it is the most important thing to you. Everything that you do in life is for your stomach and to serve your stomach.
But…what can your stomach give you?
A full feeling…for about 2 hours.
How about constipation?
If your stomach…better yet…if your physical body is your God, then your pleasure will be momentary.
But if Jesus is your God?
You have the pleasure of forgiveness.
You have the pleasure of a peace with God.
You have the pleasure of knowing your salvation is certain.
Not fighting temptation costs you that heavenly pleasure.
4) God’s Glory
Paul writes, “Their glory is their shame.” (v.19c) It’s an interesting verse. Because we said earlier that if you fight temptation, you might lose some of your own glory! Pride helps you feel good about yourself. Pride makes the world pay attention. Pride makes everyone in church pay attention to how awesome you are! It gives you a human version of glory.
But at the same time that it earns your momentary, human glory, it forfeits eternal heavenly glory.
And heavenly glory lasts!
Heavenly glory lasts forever.
Heavenly glory comes from the mouth of God himself as he says,
“You are forgiven.”
“You are mine.”
“Come, dwell with me…forever.”
Giving up on saying “No” to temptation forfeits that glory.
It forfeits heaven.
III. Other Reasons to Fight
Do you know the process for becoming a citizen in the United States?
You must have a valid Green Card for at least 5 years. There are costs involved in that.
You must apply and do paperwork and do some more paperwork. There are costs involved in that.
You must attend classes, take tests, and await results. There are costs involved in that.
Finally, you must be approved and take an oath of citizenships. Again – there are costs involved in that.
It costs a lot of money.
It takes a lot of work.
It involves a lot of time.
But that’s nothing compared to becoming a citizen of heaven!
God says we need to be holy.
God says that we need to be perfect.
God says that we need to love him with all our heart and all our soul and all our mind…all of the time!
We could never earn his citizenship. We fall to temptation too often.
The fact remains…
Dear believing friends…
Our citizenship is in heaven. (v.20)
Jesus paid for all of it.
Jesus did all of the paperwork.
Jesus has made you a citizen of his kingdom.
God the Father has approved you because of Jesus’ work.
You are a citizen of God’s kingdom.
And as a result, you have an incredible reason to fight temptation:
1) You are a Citizen of God’s Kingdom
A citizen of the United States may join the military and fight for our country.
Athletic citizens of the United States may join the Olympic team and win a gold medal for the U. S. flag.
Ambassador citizens of the U.S. may go to another country to watch out for and keep safe the U.S. Citizens in that foreign country.
If you are United States citizen, you do things on its behalf.
If you are a citizen of God’s kingdom? You do things on its behalf.
You fight temptation.
You are part of the one and only eternal kingdom of God Himself.
He fought for you and gave up his life to get you there.
Live like a citizen of His kingdom.
2) Fight on the Winning Side
Paul writes, “And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ.” (v.21b)
Savior implies that he does saving.
Which implies that he is successful at saving.
Which implies that he wins every battle against anyone that tries to stop him from saving.
Which implies that he is a winner.
Which implies that whoever is on his side…is also a winner!
In Christ, you are a winner, too.
Remember – Jesus destroyed the devil in that one-on-one temptation battle last week.
Then he went on to crush Satan’s head with his work on the cross.
And as an encore, he destroyed death by emerging victoriously from the grave.
And in him – you are victorious.
In Jesus, you are a winner.
In Jesus, you will receive all of the victory spoils.
3) The Promise of a Glorious Body
Paul writes: “Jesus, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body.” (v.21c)
Our bodies are lowly.
I can sleep for 8 hours and I’m still tired.
I can do about 30 pushups and then I just lay on my stomach.
I can resist putting a second Dorito into my mouth – for about 5 seconds.
Our bodies are lowly.
They are tired, weak and dying.
God promises that our bodies will be transformed.
After our bodies die.
After our souls are in heaven.
On the Last Day, when God does an incredible miracle and brings our bodies back to life.
They will still be our bodies, but…
They will be glorious!
Just like what happened to Jesus.
When rose from the dead, he made his way to see his disciples on that first Easter evening.
Think about all he went through.
Surely, his body would be weak.
But when Jesus walked in…
He was different.
He had nail marks in his hands, but they weren’t bleeding, bruised, or scabbed. His body was without pain.
He had a smile on his face and no sweat on his forehead. His body was without weakness.
The sin that he had taken on his body – our sins – was gone! His body was without shame.
That same kind of body is promised to you.
In eternal life, there will be no pain.
In eternal life, there will be no weakness to temptation.
In eternal life, there will be no remembrance of sinful failures.
There will be no guilt.
There will be no shame.
Friends, the benefits to following Jesus and fighting temptation far outweigh the benefits to not fight temptation.
May Jesus empower us to keep fighting temptation even when it costs.
Thus far in Acts we’ve heard a lot about the Apostles – the guys that were the leaders in the church – the guys that Jesus promised the powerful Holy Spirit – the guys that Jesus hand-picked to spread the Gospel around the world. These men were integral to the Early Church.
But…what about the rest of the church?
What about the “ordinary” Church member?
Today we are going to look at an “ordinary” church member named Stephen. As we do that, we’ll learn some things about ourselves as “ordinary” church members here in Raleigh. Before we do that, a prayer: Lord, strengthen us by the truth; your Word is truth. Open our eyes to see what you want us to see; our ears to hear what you want us to hear and our hearts to believe what you would have us believe. Amen.
I. The “Ordinary” Church Member named Stephen
The majority of Stephen’s story come from Acts 7. But before we get there, I think we should actually start with a phrase from Acts 5:29:
“We must obey God rather than men.” (Acts 5:29)
Stephen didn’t say that.
But I imagine that phrase bounced around in his head as the sharp tip of a spear pressed against his lower back directing him to an angry mob of Jewish opposition.
“We must obey God rather than men.” (Acts 5:29)
The phrase had first been uttered by the Apostle Peter. While Stephen didn’t exactly hear it from Peter’s mouth, it had become somewhat of a rallying crying for the Early Christians. In fact, it played a key part in bringing Stephen into the Early Church. Yes, he was first intrigued by the message of Jesus – full and free forgiveness because of Jesus’ death at the cross, but then, it was the conviction that drove him to being actively involved.
The apostles were willing to obey God and teach the message of Jesus…
…Even when others opposed them.
…Even when they were put on trial.
…Even when the opposition threatened death.
…Even when their backs were torn to a bloody mess by the violent lashings (floggings) as a result of their preaching the Gospel.
“We must obey God rather than men.”
That’s why Stephen had signed up.
That’s why Stephen had gotten into this mess.
A few weeks earlier the Apostles had requested some help. The church had been growing so quickly – which was a blessing. There were over 10,000 people who confessed Jesus as Savior. But since it had grown so quickly the work had gotten beyond the scope of 12 men and some of their ministries had started to be neglected.
Case and point – the distribution of bread for the widows. There were quite a few widows in the church and, at the time, widows were treated as the bottom rung of society. They couldn’t get jobs. They couldn’t make money. They were usually in poverty.
The church had been dealing with that by setting up a mobile food bank. Members were to give contributions of money; Christians that worked in the bakery would make some bread, and the disciples would grab a big old cardboard box, stuff some bread into it, and deliver it to the widows in need.
But…the program had gotten too big.
The disciples had other priorities.
Some widows had been forgotten.
Doubly unfortunately, the issue had gotten racial. The widows that were Greek began to complain that they were being ignored because they were Greek and the only ones to receive bread were the widows that were Jews…because they were Jews. Granted, that wasn’t what the Apostles were doing; they were simply too busy preaching and teaching. Still they did recognize that racial tensions and divisions were not a good look for a church whose entire premise was “Jesus died for everyone.”
So…the Apostles made a plan. They decided to choose seven men to help them in the distribution of food. Seven men who would deliver the bread and visit the shut ins. Seven men who could share the message of Jesus as they went; and free the disciples up to share the message of Jesus all day long.
One of the men they chose was Stephen.
And Stephen accepted the appointment.
And Stephen was awesome at it.
He loved seeing the smiling widows answer the door.
He loved helping them restock their empty shelves.
He even enjoyed it when the older widows squeezed his cheeks, told him how they wish they had a grandson like them and gave him a Werther’s for his trouble.
And that’s what Stephen did.
He did the ordinary job of delivering bread.
He did the ordinary job of sharing Jesus with those he met with.
He did the ordinary job of sharing what he was doing and why he was doing it with the people he met with.
And that – was why he was arrested.
By the same men that had arrested Peter.
He was arrested for delivering bread and teaching the message of Jesus.
So, he stood.
Hands cuffed behind his back.
A spear implanted into his lower back.
A room filled with vicious, angry, violent opposition.
And they were telling him to stop.
Now they were telling him to never mention Jesus again.
Now they were telling him to shut up or die.
He wasn’t an apostle….
He wasn’t trained for this…
This wasn’t in the job description!
“We must obey God rather than men.”
There was that voice again.
And Stephen couldn’t help himself:
“Brothers…friends…well trained and high respected scholars of the Old Testament Scriptures!”
Ya’ll are Old Testament scholars, so can I ask you a few questions about the Old Testament?
Do ya’ll remember Abraham? God made a promise to him to move to a country he’d never heard of and he’d bless him. People rejected that message. But God fulfilled that promise.
And do you remember Joseph? God promised him in a dream that he would one day be a ruler. His brothers rejected that message and threw him into slavery. But God fulfilled that promise.
And do you remember Moses? God promised to leader Israel out of Egypt through him. The people rejected Moses and didn’t believe him. But God fulfilled his promised. He performed 10 miraculous plagues. He split the Red Sea. He brought them out. And then…they still rejected Moses and worshipped a golden statue of a cow.
And do you remember Elijah? And Elisha? Isaiah? Jeremiah? Joel and Habakkuk? God prophesied through them. But the people rejected them. They beat them, imprisoned them and killed them.
Friends, that’s what our ancestors did.
And that’s what you are now doing.
You stiff-necked people with uncircumcised hearts and ears; you always resist the Holy Spirit. (7:51)
You always resist God’s truth.
You are resisting the very Savior God sent for you – Jesus Christ.
And with that…the room erupted.
There were loud shouts.
There were swear words.
There was tearing of clothes and clenching of fists.
There were stiff-necked, with uncircumcised hearts and ears; resisting the Holy Spirit.
And Stephen dropped to his knees.
He looked up.
And he smiled:
“Look, I see heaven open and I see Jesus Christ standing at God’s right hand.” (7:56)
And the men charged the floor.
And they grabbed Stephen.
And they threw him outside.
And they began to throw stone after stone, rock after rock at Stephen.
Eyes swollen, mouth bleeding, lungs gasping for breath, said one last thing:
“Jesus, receive my spirit and don’t hold this sin against them.” (v.59)
And then, he died.
II. Lessons from Stephen about being an “Ordinary” Church Member
I think Stephen’s story is one of the most powerful in the entire Bible.
I think it’s incredible because Stephen was your average everyday church member with an average everyday church job.
Yet there are some incredible lessons that we can learn from this ordinary Church member. Here are a few things the ordinary Christian does…
(1) “Ordinary” Church Members Serve (Even when It’s Delivering Boxes of Bread)
Because that was probably not the most glamorous job.
It wasn’t that job that got your name in lights.
It wasn’t a job that would get you on a social media post.
It’s not the kind of job that develops its own hashtag: #ServingBreadIsAwesome
But Stephen did it anyway.
Because service is key.
Jesus said, “I didn’t come to be served, but to serve and give my life as a ransom for many.” (Mt. 20:28)
Stephen remembered how Jesus served him (by dying on the cross for his sins) and was motivated to serve others.
Here’s the thing – we have a lot of people that are a part of our church community.
And some of ya’ll are very smart. I know which ones I shouldn’t have a conversation about medical terms and which ones to avoid talking about computer coding with because the conversation will quickly go over my head.
Some of ya’ll are smart enough to do top level, top notch, sophisticated stuff…
…We need to be like Stephen.
We need to be willing to do the less glamorous jobs.
We need to be willing to humbly serve others…whether we have a master’s degree, a college degree or a high school diploma.
We need to be willing to deliver bread, to serve cookies, to water plants, to pick weeds, to change the classroom hamster bedding.
That’s the heart of service.
It’s the heart Stephen had.
It’s the heart Christ wants us to have.
(2) “Ordinary” Church Members …Knows God’s Word is MOST Important
That is why the Apostles came up with the position of bread deliverers.
And its why Stephen took the job.
Because God’s word was most important. And the Apostle’s needed to be spending their time doing that.
It’s why Stephen took advantage of the personal conversation and opportunities he had to share the message of God’s Word.
It’s why Stephen refused to compromise on God’s Word – even when faced with death.
Again – this is a key point of us today.
Because sometimes the things that we volunteer for at church don’t seem to be related to God’s Word.
There are things that are easy to relate – preaching, teaching, worship music playing, eldering….
…But other things are harder to see the connection. Things like: weed pulling, coffee making, website maintenance, and watching kids in the nursery.
In the bigger picture, these things free me up to share God’s Word. They free up Precious Lambs teachers to teach God’s Word. They free up guests and visitors to focus on God’s Word. They are absolutely, important and integral to a congregation’s Planting the Message of Jesus in the Heart of North Raleigh.
May I take a brief moment to free up all of you Stephens out there. To thank all of you who have been serving throughout this past year – as we grow, and more things are on my plate and more things are on our plans – thank you for your service to keep God’s Word as most important.
And a brief what now – consider ways you can continue to do that. Keep your eyes open as you serve for ways that you can share Jesus on a personal level.
Whether it’s talking to a fellow volunteer while trimming weeds…
Or welcome a visitor while you greet.
Or simply not complaining – like the people were doing – to help us stay less focused on complaints and more focused on our Savior Jesus.
(3) “Ordinary” Church Members …Suffer for their Faith
Because Stephen didn’t do anything wrong.
Stephen was simply delivering bread.
He was helping the sick.
And he was telling about Jesus.
But he suffered. He suffered even giving his life over to death.
Here’s the reality. Sometimes church Members, even “ordinary” church members suffer for their faith.
In fact, I sometimes wonder if it isn’t more often? Because Pastors deal a lot with church people.
Pastor have to spend a good amount of time in God’s Word prepping a sermon.
Pastors often get to teach people on their turf.
You work in the world.
You live in the world.
You have friends and family in the world.
You do life among the people that reject His Word and sometimes –reject you for following Jesus.
Expect to suffer.
A mean comment on Facebook.
A tension at work.
An angry speech from a family member.
Expect to suffer for following Jesus. Because honestly, it’d be extraordinary if ordinary church members didn’t suffer for their faith.
It’s entirely ordinary for ordinary church members to suffer.
And that’s ok.
It’s ok, because of our final point:
(4) “Ordinary” Church Members…Receive the Extraordinary Crown of Life
That’s the message that empowered Stephen to be willing to die for his faith.
He knew his Savior.
He knew that Jesus conquered death.
He knew that Jesus promised that he too would conquer death.
And then – after his sermon – after the crowd is already angry – Stephen looks up and sees Jesus’ standing in heaven.
That’s really interesting.
Because usually in the Bible, God is presented as “sitting on his throne.”
But here Jesus is standing.
You have to picture the same thing.
You have to picture the same thing, because it’s truth.
When you are suffering, when you encounter opposition, when you are struggling to maintain faith in an opposing to faith world, see Jesus standing and calling to you.
Revelation 2:10, Jesus says this, “Be faithful even to the point of death and I will give you the crown of life.”
That’s an extraordinary promise.
It’s an extraordinary promise to even ordinary people like you and me.
And it’s true.
When you cling to that extraordinary promise, God will work through ordinary you to do extraordinary things.
Isn’t that what happened with Stephen? His story is written in Scripture. His passion is recorded for us to read. His confident holding to God’s Word motivates us to stand up for God’s Word.
The “ordinary” church member – through whom God worked extraordinary things.
Brothers and sisters may our God do the same through you.
May he work extraordinary things as we work to Plant the Message of Jesus in the Hearts of North Raleigh. Amen.
Our new sermon series is all about the word “disciple.” The word is interesting. It’s simple meaning is “follower.” Look up in the dictionary and it refers to “one who adheres to the teachings of another.” So, it isn’t necessarily Christian, yet, it seems to be strictly associated with Jesus.
That’s probably because of the 12 disciples. Have you heard of them? The 12 disciples are a group of 12 men who followed Jesus during his three-year ministry. Remember their names? I do because of the well-known song:
Peter, Andrew, James, and John, fishermen of Capernaum,
Thomas, and St. Matthew too, Philip and Bartholomew,
James and Less and Jude the Brave,
Simon the Zealot and Judas the Knave,
Twelve Disciples here in all, following the Master’s call.
These 12 disciples made discipling famous.
But a disciple is more than just those 12.
A disciple is any follower of Jesus.
What’s it take to be Jesus’ disciple in 2018? That’s the goal of our sermon series. We will learn about being a disciple, as we look at how Jesus disciples his disciples. Before we begin, let’s say a prayer: Lord, strengthen us by the truth; your Word is truth. Open our eyes to see what you want us to see. Open our ears to hear what you want us to hear and open our hearts to believe what you would have us believe. Amen.
I. The Story
The first lesson that we’re going to learn about being a disciple comes from a time before the disciples were disciples. Because before they could follow, they needed Jesus to tell them to follow. They needed a calling. And one of the very first instances come from Mark 1.
Picture Mark 1 opening up with a beautiful morning sunrise sneaking over the horizon of the Galilean Sea. Standing on the beach is a guy named John. He’s holding a cup of his favorite He-Brew blend coffee close to his nose and breathes it in.
“Caffeine and fish guts! Beautiful isn’t it?”
John looks to see his friend Peter smirking in his direction as he holds a bundle of thickly roped nets in his arms. “You don’t mind if I borrow them this morning.”
“Go ahead. Just be sure to give us a few of your catch as payment.” John’s brother James comments as he throws an oar into their boat. “Dad’s expecting that we have all our nets out on the sea this morning.” Peter nodded, took a swig of the rum bottle setting at the edge of the dock and went off.
Meanwhile James makes his way around to his brother, “Did you hear about the commotion downtown yesterday?”
“It’s that Jesus guy again. Apparently, he was outside the Capernaum synagogue telling a bunch of Pharisees to Repent! I wish I could have been there. It would have been nice to knock those religious zealots off their high pulpits. Apparently, he told them all that they too were sinners and they too were in need of a Savior.”
John shook his head as he threw another pile of nets into the boat. “Repent, huh? That sounds a bit like John the Baptist. Only John was at least interesting. He was homeless. He lived in the desert. He ate poached crickets for breakfast. This Jesus guy? He’s just a commoner. He’s a carpenter. I just don’t think it’d be worth following him.”
“Well,” James continues, “He’s got loads of people following him already. In fact,” he leans in real close, “I think I know the difference. John the Baptist proclaimed sin and the need for a Savior. This Jesus? He proclaims sin…and that He is the Savior.”
John pauses. “That is interesting. Interesting and foolish. How can a carpenter save us from sin?”
James shrugs. “I don’t know. But…there’s something about him…”
John returns to loading up the boat with buckets and nets. Only pausing to talk report to his dad about where they planned on fishing that morning and how much they expected to haul in. Just as they were about to push off…a commotion. Up the road, about 100 feet away, John could see a small group following a rather plain looking man. The man was teaching and talking as he went and the others were listening.
“Hey!” James whistles. “It’s that Jesus guy I was talking about.”
John leans closer, steadying the boat and straining to listen: “Repent! The Kingdom of heaven is near. Repent! For God’s kingdom is here. Repent to be saved from destruction. Repent and trust God’s Messiah – to be saved from sin.” (Mk 1.)
John watches as Jesus talks.
He certainly looks convincing.
He certainly seems to believe what he’s saying.
But…again…how could it be true?
How could some carpenter be a Savior from sin?
As John watches the group approach, the dynamic changes.
Jesus stops talking and turns towards the docks.
He turns towards some fishermen in the boats.
He turns…toward Peter.
“Come. Follow me.” (v.19)
John let out a quiet guffaw. He couldn’t be serious…Peter? He’s a bit gruff for spiritual work…He smelled of worm guts, four letter words and a bit of stale wine.
Peter wasn’t that foolish.
Peter didn’t like religious folk.
Peter would never follow a…
John’s thoughts were cut off. Because in less than an instant, Peter jumped over the boat and into the water. He waded as quickly as he could to the shore near Jesus. His brother Andrew followed – he docked the boat and approached on land – but he approached Jesus too.
They all shook hands.
And they followed Jesus.
They followed Jesus right over to the dock where John was.
And John’s thoughts started swirling. Me? He better not stop for me…Does he know who I am? I don’t have any religious credentials. I’m not a Pharisee; I’m a fisherman. And a sinner. I’ve got filthy language. I’ve been known to get drunk. And I’ve struggled with lusting after that servant girl on dock 9.
This Jesus is on a spiritual crusade.
This Jesus seems righteous.
This Jesus seems holy.
How could I ever fit in?
But…Jesus…as if reading his thoughts…smiled.
And stretched out his hand.
“Come. Follow me.”
John looked at Jesus.
He looked at James.
He looked at his net…and threw it to the ground.
He got out of the boat and followed Jesus.
He had a calling.
II. Notes on Jesus’ Calling
And there you have it. The very first calling of the very first disciples to follow Jesus. Peter, Andrew, James and John. But what I think interesting about this account is how there are quite a few things about Jesus’ calling of these disciples that are the same as when he calls you and me to be disciples.
No, we don’t all own boats.
And none of us smell like fish – at least I think.
But there are three important ways that our calling as disciple is the same.
1. The Call is Urgent
Note what it says that Jesus’ main message was very time sensitive. He said, “The time has come,” he said. “The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!” (v.15)
Notice what he did not say – “The time is next week.”
Or, “The time is in a few years.”
Or even, “The time is after you have graduated college, found a wife, and started a career.”
Jesus’ call to the people was urgent.
The call of the disciple is urgent.
And Jesus’ call to you to be his disciple is urgent.
This is so interesting. Because 21st century humans are usually very urgent about things. We are always in a hurry – and this week with the snow – was tough for a lot of us – because we are always in a hurry.
We are in a hurry to get to work.
In a hurry to make money.
In a hurry to get the kids to karate.
In a hurry to make supper.
In a hurry to get the kids to bed so we can sit down and catch the latest episode of Fuller House on Netflix!
We are always in a hurry – except when it comes to Jesus.
I’ve been a pastor for 6 ½ years now, but I don’t know that I’ve ever heard anyone say:
“Sorry Pastor. No time to chat. We’ve got to hurry home and study the Bible.”
Or: “Pastor --- could you get that baptism scheduled soon! Let’s hurry it up.”
Or: “Pastor – can we start Bible basics at 6am tomorrow morning? I can’t wait to grow in faith.”
It just doesn’t happen.
Honestly, I don’t have the urgency I should when it comes to Jesus.
But we should.
Because Jesus is the only way to heaven.
The kingdom of heaven is near.
Meaning death is near.
Meaning our judgment from God is near.
Meaning our judgment from God that determines where we spend eternity is near.
I bet there are some people in Hawaii get this. Did you hear about it? There was an accidental nuclear warhead warning. For 7 minutes people thought that the island was about to explode, and their lives ended. They called loved ones. They hid where they could. They prayed prayers.
But it wasn’t real.
They didn’t die.
But eventually they will.
And you will.
This is urgent.
2. The Call is Hard
Jesus call was this: “Repent!” (v.15) Repent means to do a 180-degree turn.
It’s like Simon Says. Ever played that? Simon says what you are to do and you do it. Simon says, “Raise your hand,” so you raise your hand. Simon says, “blink your eyes,” so you blink your eyes. Simon says, “Repent,” so you turn around.
Jesus says repent and you turn around.
Not physically, but spiritually.
You turn from sin to Savior.
And this isn’t as easy as Simon Says.
Think about what Jesus is calling you to turn from.
Turn from selfishness. Stop worrying about yourself, stop the innate desire to make you # 1.
Turn from toxic friendships – particularly ones that selfishly won’t want you to leave
Turn from overdrinking – so challenging there’s chemical dependence struggling against you.
And that’s not all to turn from.
Turn from heterosexual lust.
Turn from homosexual lust.
Turn from hatred.
Turn from racism.
Turn from four letter words.
Turn from gossip.
Turn from greed.
Turn from pride.
Jesus is calling you, “Turn from following your sinful desires and turn toward following me.”
But oh so blessed.
Because what does following any random sexual desire lead to? Brokenness in family, guilt in your heart, and the cycle of trying to fill your desire with the next desire.
And what does overdrinking lead to? A headache, bad decisions, hurt friendships – even alcoholism.
And what does pride lead to? Missing out on key help, losing friends, and a loneliness when no one wants to be around you.
Following sinful desires leads to nothing good.
But following Jesus?
That leads to complete forgiveness.
That leads to peace with God.
That leads to eternal life.
That leads to joy everlasting.
Because when you follow Jesus, you’ll see that he followed the desires of his heart.
And the desires of his heart – were you.
It led him to the cross.
It led him to suffer on that cross.
It led him to die on that cross.
It led him to emerge from the grave victoriously – to save you from sin.
This is the good news that comes with following Jesus.
He is your Savior.
3. The Call is for You
This is important. Because it’s easy to think – these 12 disciples must have had something special about them.
They must have been a higher level of qualified than I could ever be.
They must have been perfectly suited for being disciples.
But look at this. Did you see verse 20? When Jesus had gone a little farther, he saw James son of Zebedee and his brother John in a boat, preparing their nets. Without delay he called them…
Did you notice that? “Without delay?”
There wasn’t a test.
Not even a Facebook quiz.
Jesus just calls…
Because Jesus calls sinners.
Are you a sinner? Jesus is calling you.
“Come. Follow me.”
But I’m pretty guilty.
But I struggle with homosexuality.
But I keep lying.
But I got a DUI once.
But I said some horrible things just last week.
But I’ve been divorced…twice.
Jesus still calls.
He calls you without delay.
Come. Follow me.
III. What Now?
1. Follow the Call
You have one. Whether you’ve never followed Jesus before or you’ve followed him for a long time. Follow him!
Because some of you might be thinking, “I’ve been following Jesus for a long time. I’ve already answered the call. I’ve already been following Jesus. What could God possibly be calling me to do?”
Easy. He’s calling you to follow Him more closely.
In fact, I saw a bumper sticker the other day. It was in fine print and you had to drive really close to see what it said. It said, “Are you following Jesus as close as you are following this car?”
But think about it.
Are you following Jesus so closely that you know the fine print of his desires?
Can you see his Word in every situation?
Follow him more closely. Heed the call.
2. Make the Call your Priority
Because I always think it’s intriguing that there’s a net involved in that fishing scene. Because nets always catch things. That’s why fishermen used them. Nets caught fish.
But this net almost serves to catch John that day and prevent him from ever following Jesus.
Think about it. That net represented a lot.
The work he had to do.
The money he had to make.
The family he had to take care of.
The mouths he had to feed.
The father he had to please.
But John looks at that net – and threw it down.
Those can wait.
Jesus is the priority.
What are your nets? What are the things that prevent you from following Jesus?
They are different in all of our lives.
A net can be family.
A net can be work.
A net can be money.
Drop that net.
There’s nothing it offers you that can’t find ultimate fulfillment in Jesus.
Drop you net…and follow him.
Today we want to start our series called God & Country. We’re looking at how a Christian balances God and Patriotism. Our goal for today is to see (1) when patriotism can become a danger (2) what good patriotism looks like. We’re going to do that by focusing in on a section from 1 Chronicles. That’s old school. It talks about the nation of Israel and its relationship with God. If you want to open your Bibles to it, it’s in the Old Testament close to the books of Kings. You can also search for it on your iPhones.
But before we study God’s Word, let’s say a prayer: O Lord, strengthen us by the truth; your Word is truth. Open our eyes to see what you want us to see. Open our ears to hear what you want us to hear. Open our hearts to believe what you would have us believe. Amen.
I. Bad Patriotism
King David took the final steps out of his palace into the early morning streets of Jerusalem.
It was quiet. Quiet because the city had been partying late into the night. There had been another victory. Another victory for Israel. With that victory came another welcoming home of the victorious soldiers. Chants of “Is-ra-el! Is-ra-el!” had filled the streets. Street musicians played “I am proud to be an Israelian!” as little old ladies waved Israelite flags to the beat. Little kids held up their GI Israel action figures and older teens had pledged to ‘join the army’ when they were a bit older.
It was a good time. A time of national pride.
A time of Patriotism.
With good reason. Under King David, the nation had expanded its borders; it had defeated its enemies. They had gained national wealth, improved the economy and brought prosperity for even the poor. They were the United States of the Ancient World. Other countries feared them; many wanted to be them; no one dared cross them.
David knew that. He knew that and yet…he knew the worries. He knew the nervousness that comes with the economy. He knew the whispers of terrorism and war. He knew that some didn’t think Israel was as great as they thought they were.
A pile of confetti blew past his face. David needed something. Something to comfort the people. Something to dispel their doubts. Something to assure them they were safe. Something to assure himself he was safe.
Then, David had an idea. In a brilliant, politically tactical move, he would order a census. He’d number the fighting men. He’d get a count on how large his army was. He’d post that census on billboards throughout Jerusalem. He’d let himself and his country know how great the land of Israel really was!
David returned to the palace and called for the general of his army to stand before him. “Go; gather your commanders. Set into motion a census. Find out for me just how great the Israelite army is.”
Joab protested. “Majesty -- the country is huge. The army is great. Why do you need a census to prove that? Why do you need to boast? Whose ego are we trying to feed? Mine? Theirs? Yours?”
But David was king. That was that. Joab went out. He travelled. He counted. He tallied. He added. He subtracted. He numbered and reported:
“There are over 1.6 million soldiers in the army of Israel.”
David smiled. David swelled with patriotism.
The others who heard; they smiled. They swelled with patriotism.
But God didn’t smile. He didn’t swell with Patriotism.
“But this command was evil in the sight of God; so he punished Israel.”
This seems strange at first. David took a census. Is census taking sinfully wrong? Is it as bad as theft and adultery? Should we feel as uncomfortable around census takers as we might around pornography directors and terrorists?
No. Of course not. Census taking isn’t wrong.
The problem wasn’t the census. The problem was the motivation behind the census.
It’s kinda like eating yogurt. There’s nothing wrong with eating yogurt. There isn’t a commandment that says, “Thou shalt not commit yogurt eating.” If you’re eating yogurt because you’re hungry, no worries. If you’re eating yogurt because you like yogurt, no worries. If you’re eating yogurt, because there’s nothing else in your fridge, no worries.
But if you’re eating yogurt, because your wife implied that you’re a bit out of shape and you’re upset at her for doing that and you hope she sees you eating yogurt and feels bad about the fact that she was being such a meanie – That’s wrong.
What was the bad motivation behind David? Pride. Pride in himself as King. Pride in his country. He trusted the great number of troops; the awesomeness of his army; his nation more than his God.
Because did you notice, there is no mention of God in his request. He doesn’t tell the people – “Be calm; everything is good in Israel because of God.” Nope. With the census he was saying, “Everything is good in Israel because of Israel. Because of our nation. Because of our patriotism.”
That’s bad patriotism. In fact, you might call it “Patriolatry,” – the worship of nation…rather…than…God.
So. I ask. At the time of this election – where’s your trust?
Recently there’s been a controversy around Colin Kaepernick and the national anthem. Did you know this? He and some other athletes have been kneeling during the national anthem. And I’m not here to give a long winded reaction to all of this.
Yes, it’s important to show respect to the men and women who serve our country in war and standing during the national anthem is a way to do that. But it’s also important to listen to a large portion of the black community (our family) when they are telling us about struggles that we might not know anything about.
But I’m more interested in the reaction that I’ve seen these past couple of weeks to it. People have been downright vengeful. There are comments on social media and in the mainstream media about how awful anyone who doesn’t put their hand on the heart for the flag is awful. About how they are traitors About how they are the worst. About how they are “swear word; swear word; swear word.” About how there is nothing more important than showing respect to our flag.
OK. I’m gonna challenge you.
If you’ve got that outrage over a lack of respect for our sinful country, where is that outrage over lack of respect to God?
Where’s your outrage over the family member who doesn’t show God respect and devote one hour a week to him at church?
Where’s your outrage when someone takes God’s name in vain?
Where’s your respect when you can’t even stay awake for a 20-minute message from God’s Word?
Why is there post after post after post (and conversation after conversation) about America and Debate and Vote this way, but there is no mention of God – no mention of our Savior?
I heard someone say this recently: “The thing you defend the most passionately is the thing that you love the most passionately.” I’ll say that again. “The thing you defend the most passionately is the thing you love most passionately.”
There’s truth there.
Think about your love. What’s that for you? The USA? Or God?
Scripture says this. In fact, it’s one of the Ten Commandments. “You shall have no other gods.” You shouldn’t trust anything more than God. You shouldn’t love anything more than God. You shouldn’t fear anything more than God.
This isn’t God being a big jealous jerk! It’s God loving you. It’s God reminding you that He is the only one that can save. Because the truth is:
The United States will not pass some law to get you to heaven.
George Washington didn’t die for your sins.
Abraham Lincoln didn’t rise form the dead.
Uncle Sam isn’t your Savior.
God did and God is.
And if you ignore this truth. If you stay at the temple of Patriology and your country is more important than God, then that’s bad patriotism.
And God will act swiftly.
II. Good Patriotism
Just like he did with David.
God sent a prophet. The prophet told David, v.10-12 "This is what the Lord says: I am giving you three options…Take your choice: three years of famine, three months of being swept away before your enemies…or three days of plague in the land, with the angel of the Lord ravaging every part of Israel."
Now. If I were David and I thought that my nation was so great (and it was), I might pick option one. Three years of famine would be no problem for the booming economy of Israel. He could tell his secretary of agriculture to start gathering food the very next day and start rationing the day after that.
Or I might pick option two. Because three months of enemy combat…After all, they had over 1.6 million soldiers in their army. They might be able to fend off these attacks. They might be able to defend the country.
But option three, three days of plague in the land? If that started immediately, Israel could do nothing. They wouldn’t be able to set up vaccination sites. They wouldn’t be able to combat it. They’d be entirely at the mercy of God.
Which is exactly why David picked it:
v. 13 “Let me fall into the hands of the Lord, for his mercy is very great; but do not let me fall into human hands.”
Notice the change in trust. No longer does David trust his country. He doesn’t trust his army. He doesn’t trust his nation.
He trusts God. He trusts God to be merciful simply because he’s merciful.
So the pestilence starts. The angel of the Lord stands like a stalwart statue with his sword directed over the land. Soldiers start dropping. Heart attacks. Strokes. Other sudden illnesses. 70,000 people died. It looks like more will die. It looks like a terrible decision. And the angel of the Lord approaches Jerusalem – and the capital city was about to experience the complete wrath of God. But then….
That’s what happens when you trust God and his mercy. God has mercy.
And if you read a bit farther it says that God commands the angel to put his sword away and the angel does. Because God was in control the whole time. Not just at the beginning of this story. It was about God the whole time. From the start of the Israelite nation and throughout King David’s reign, to the kings after David and even the destruction of Jerusalem way in the future. Israel was ok. But God was Great!
It doesn’t depend on the size of the army. Remember the size that David came up with? 1.6 million soldiers? That’s huge. It wasn’t even everyone. Joab had intentionally not counted the men of Levi and Benjamin – probably to keep people from being so prideful.
But God has never needed millions to win battles.
With Gideon he used 300 men to defeat close to 120,000.
In Egypt, he used the wind and the waves to destroy the thousands of Egyptian chariots chasing the Jews.
In the small town of Dothan, his prophet Elisha was trapped, but not a single human soul came to save him. For that God used chariots of fire and angels of vengeance.
But none of those are anything compared to his greatest battle.
Jesus fought millions of billions of sins and death and the devil, all by himself.
He didn’t use a sword. In fact, as the battle started he told his disciples to put their swords away. They did and they ran away. He was betrayed, abandoned, beaten, scorned, whipped, and crucified. He died!
But – with that dead body, he won a war. He came out of the grave and won salvation.
It means that if you have been trapped in Patriology, if you have been trusting in nation rather than God, God is ready to forgive. He defeated your sins. By faith in him, you are forgiven. You are victorious. You are a part of his heavenly kingdom.
III. WHAT NOW?
1) Redefine Patriotism
Webster’s dictionary defines patriotism as (sorry if that sounds like a lame segue for a speech) “the love of one’s country.”
You are American. Love your country. But you are a part of a country much greater than that. A country that you’ll be a part of, if you travel abroad, if you move to Mexico, if you retire in the Caribbean, even if America ceases to exist.
You are a part of God’s kingdom.
Take pride in that. Make that the conversation you have at work. Make that the encouragement you post on the internet. Brag on God’s kingdom and brag on your God.
God’s Word is often described like a mirror. A mirror shows you where you need some help. It tells me where I missed shaving and where I have some asparagus in my teeth. But too often in America, as Christians in America, we pick up the mirror and hold it like this. We run around telling others to look in the mirror and forget to look in the mirror ourselves.
Turn the mirror around. Reflect on your own attitudes and reactions. Reflect on how you’ve done wrong. Like King David – cry out: “Oh dear Lord, forgive me! Forgive me for my wrong doing.”
And then? Hear God’s Word of forgiveness. Reflect on his love. Reflect on his mercy. Reflect on how you can show his love and mercy to other citizens closest to you.
3) Get on Your Knees
That’s what King David did. When he saw the destruction that was coming on his country, he got on his knees and prayed. He prayed because of God’s mercy. He prayed for God’s mercy. God gave it.
Let’s do the same thing. Rather than getting on our feet and arguing with one another – let’s first get on our knees and pray. For God’s kingdom – for our country. Prayer for the salvation of souls in America. Prayer for the coming to faith of our leaders. Pray for opportunities to share his love in our land of North Raleigh.
Pray for God’s blessings on our nation.
Which is actually the very prayer that we will say in the very last hymn for today. Maybe you peeked. It’s God Bless Our Native Land.
Notice something about song. We are asking God to bless our native land.
Not our army.
Not the president.
God bless our native land. God bless the USA. God bless all of us in the USA.
I. The Denial of the Denial
This night was not shaping up the way Peter had hoped it would.
It was supposed to be a nice evening. A chance for the group of disciples to spend time together. A time to reflect on the blessings of God on the Israelite people. A nice holiday for their little family.
But moments ago, Judas had left in a huff. Jesus had spoken again about his death. The other disciples all looked downcast.
It must have been getting to Jesus. Because now he was talking about how all of them, would leave him. In just a few hours he would be alone. Abandoned.
Peter had to do something. He reached over. He put his hands on Jesus’ shoulder. He shushed Jesus.
“Not I Lord! I won’t ever leave you. Not now. Not ever.”
“Simon, Simon. Satan, has asked to sift all of you as wheat. But I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers.”
Peter shook his head. Why was he calling him his given name? His new name was “Peter.” It was Peter because he was a rock. He didn’t get blown about by the air like a little piece of wheat. He was stronger than that.
“Never Lord!” Judas – sure. He’s a cheater. He’s always been greedy. And Philip? I could see it. He’s the one who didn’t believe you could feed the 5,000 people with a few loaves of bread. Even John – he’s supposed to be a son of thunder, but he’s more like a tiny thud. But not me. I walked on water with you. I was the first to call you the Christ. I saw your face shine like lightning up on the mountain (Which I’m not supposed to be telling anyone yet) but…still…the point is: I am ready to go with you! Even if it means prison…even if it means death.
Jesus repeated...eyes directly on Peter…more specifically, “I tell you, Peter, before the rooster crows today. You will deny three times that you know who I am.”
If you know this story and what happens next, you’re already shaking your head. Peter is setting himself up to fall even more so than before. It’s happening because Peter is forgetting an important Biblical principle. “If you think you are standing firm, be careful so that you don’t fall.” (1 Corinthians 10:12)
Peter forgot that.
But this is why God’s Word is so awesome, because look at how all encompassing that passage is: If you are hearing this message right now and you think it doesn’t apply to you, then, (guess what) it applies to you! If you think it applies to you, it applies to you. If you think that it does apply to you and therefore it doesn’t apply to you because it applies to you, it still applies to you.
Be careful. If you think this message isn’t for you, the devil’s got you right where he wants you. He's got you right next to the cliff -- and when you aren't looking -- push.
And you will fall.
Just like Peter.
II. Reality Sets In
Peter ducked behind a bush. “Did they see him?” His heart was beating so quickly.
Moments ago, Judas had appeared with a mob of soldiers. They had surrounded Jesus. They had arrested him. They other disciples had run away. And in the confusion, Peter had too!
But…he took a deep breath…he was better than this. He had promised not to abandon Jesus and he wouldn’t.
Peter walked the remaining few minutes to the courtyard of the high priest. This was where they would put Jesus on trial to determine whether he was guilty or not.
Peter stayed in the shadows. He should be in there with Jesus, but…first he needed to regain his composure.
He inched forward to the fire that was roaring in the middle of the room. It was night. He was cold. As soon as he warmed up, then…he’d go join Jesus.
As the light of the flames hit the sides of Peter’s face, a young servant girl – a teenager – noticed him. She did a double take. Then, she approached him. 56 “This man was with Jesus.”
Peter reacted quickly. “Woman, I don’t know him.” He said with a nervous giggle. Then turned his back to her and tried to focus in on warming his hands – as if the question had never been asked.
Someone else had heard her idea and after taking a long hard look at Peter, agreed, “You are also one of them.”
“I am not!” Peter replied – just a smidgen more sharply. This time he moved away from the fire. He moved back into the shadows. He needed a break from this stress. He needed to calm his spirit.
Finally a group confronted him. “You were with him. You are a Galilean. Your accent gives you away.”
Peter’s got vicious. “I don’t know what you’re talking about. I swear to God I don’t know what you’re talking about. I don’t know him. I don’t want to know him. I will never know him. Leave me alone!”
As Peter completed his tirade, the silence of the midnight air was cut through by a host of noises.
A rooster crowed.
A door opened.
The march of the officer’s boots hit the cobblestone.
The clanking of changes as the prisoner was moved.
Peter looked up. His eyes locked with Jesus. He saw his Savior’s disappointment.
And Peter remembered. “Before the rooster crows today, you will disown me three times.” And he went outside and wept. Reality had set in. He was not the strong, courageous, immovable Christian that he had fancied himself to be.
He was weak just….like Jesus said.
It’s hard to look at the reality of our situation. But right now I need you to do just that. When we look at Peter’s story, do you see yourself?
1) The Runaway Christian
Do you see yourself in the garden? Like Peter, running away from your Christian friends when things get scary?
Whoa! Pastor just said that’s a sin…online. In a public forum. I’m totally abandoning him. He’s on his own.
Wait. We’re gonna say a prayer in public? Excuse me while I use the restroom.
Oh no! My Christian friend is starting to turn this conversation back to God. I’m really uncomfortable. I know, “Speaking of heavenly things, did anyone hear the heavenly voices on American Idol last night!?!”.
If you abandon your Christian friends, you’re abandoning Jesus. You aren’t as strong as you think.
2) The Follow at a Distance Christian
Maybe you’re more like Peter on the way to the courtyard. A “Follow at a distance” Christian.
Valentine’s Day was last weekend. Did you go for an afternoon walk with your honey? If so, did you have them walk about four blocks in front of you? “Honey, I’m having a blast?” Or did you go see a movie, tell her to sit in the front, while you went and sat in the back. “Wouldn’t want people to know we’re together.”
Following Jesus at a distance gives people that exact impression. If they look at you and they look at Jesus and they can’t tell that the two of you are walking hand in hand, you aren’t as strong as you think.
3) The "Panic-at-the-last-moment-and-flat-out-deny-Jesus-to-non-Jesus-followers" Chrsitian
Or maybe you’re tougher than that. Maybe you don’t run away. Maybe you don’t follow at a distance. Maybe you get straight up confronted about your Christianity.
I was on a plane trip not that long ago. I’ve always read that a plane ride is an excellent time for a Christian Pastor to share their faith. You’ve got an audience. They can’t leave. It’s a wonderful opportunity. I’ve read a few different stories from a few top notch pastors about how they’ve been able to share their faith and how God used that to bring people to faith.
So…I was prepared to do just that. Except. The first flight wasn’t that long. There wasn’t enough time for a conversation about religion. The second flight – that guy looked a little angry, so I didn’t want to offend him.
But the third flight. The person was very talkative. She told me about how she was from Germany. She told me about how she was lonely. She told me about how she missed her family and friends. This would have been the perfect time to tell her about her Savior who never leaves her.
Instead, I said, “Did you want some peanuts?”
When that plane ride was over…now not only did I struggle with fear, but I struggled with guilt. I thought, "Some pastor. Can’t even share the message of Jesus. Not good. Pathetic." It took a couple days for me to get over it.
That's hard. Because now the voices have changed.
That's what happened to Peter. He had heard voices pointing at him and saying, "You are one of his disciples, admit it!" Now he lay in a heap outside the building listening to the voice of the devil, "You are NOT one of his disciples. Admit it! You abandoned him. You denied him. You are not a believer."
III. Where to Find Strength
But here’s where I found strength and it’s where Peter found strength. It’s also where you can find strength.
Scripture says, "When we are faithless, he is faithful, for he cannot disown himself.”
That’s exactly what Jesus was. Look at the story of Peter’s Denial again. Did you notice it all came true? Judas’ left to betray Jesus like Jesus had said. The disciples left Jesus like he had said. Peter abandoned Jesus like he had said.
But also Jesus. He did did exactly like he had said. Thank the LORD! He was arrested like he said. He was sentenced to die like he said. He was willing to give up his life to save you -- like he said and promised!
It’s amazing, too. Because if anyone should deny anyone, it should really be Jesus denying us! We are the ones with the sin problem. We are the ones whose hearts are filled with guilt. We are the ones who, if our moms knew all that we’ve done, even they would consider saying, “I don’t know the man.”
But Jesus knew the worst of you and he did not abandon you. He did not keep a distance from you. He didn’t deny knowing you.
Instead – he stood up for you. “See my friend, I don’t deny knowing her. She’s done wrong, but I’d like to suffer for her. I don’t want to abandon her. I want to take her place. I don’t want to keep my distance from her – I want to be with always to the very end of the age.”
Because of Jesus, you are forgiven. Forgiven for your lack of courage. Forgiven for letting fear win. Forgiven for your weaknesses.
And you know what – having weakness and having fears – they aren’t so bad. In fact, check out what 2 Corinthians 12:9 says, “My grace is sufficient for you; for my power is made perfect in weakness.”
Any of you ever lift weights before? If you are lifting weights, it’s smart to have a spotter. But sometimes – you get the impression that the musclehead who asked you to spot is just calling you over to show off. “Oh man that 400 pounds that on my chest feels just like a feather. Could you help me get it off…oops never mind. I did it on my own.”
But if you are spotting someone and they need help, then your power is on full display! It’s up to you to save them from injury.
When we admit our weaknesses, God’s power is on full display. His power to destroy sin. His power to defeat death. His power to overcome adversity.
His power – to help us be bold.
Fast forward with me. Peter is surrounded by angry, violent men. The exact men who had crucified Jesus just months earlier. Now Peter stood before them. Now they were threatening Peter with death.
This was a lot scary than that young teenage girl.
But listen to Peter now, “You crucified the Lord of glory. For Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name, given to men, by which we must be saved.”
Peter doesn’t stutter. Peter doesn’t blink. Peter is bold.
The difference? Well – there’s this little thing called Easter that happens in between there. A little thing where Jesu boldly defeats sin and boldly defeats death.
Jesus made Peter bold.
Jesus makes believers bold.
When you're with Jesus, he’ll make you bold too. Amen.
John rubbed his wrists.
The chains were a bit tight. That as well as the bruise on his stomach where a punch had landed during his arrest were causing him to groan a bit.
“We’ll be ok,” a voice said. Though he couldn’t see because of the darkness in the prison, John knew that it was Peter. He had an unmistakable voice. Although, there in the prison, it sounded a bit defeated.
They had been arrested –arrested for talking about Jesus – for telling others about the sin-ridden state of their souls and for explaining that Jesus Christ was the only cure.
As the darkness deepened late into the night, thoughts swirled in John’s mind – “Why are we doing this? We are putting our very lives in danger. Is it worth it? If these people don’t want to hear about it, why should I tell them? I should just be quiet – mind my own business – and never see a prison cell like this again.”
John heard another voice…less familiar. “Come,” it said, in harmony with clicking locks. John’s chains were loosened. Peter’s chains were loosened. The doors were opened and the guards weren’t aware of any of it.
As they followed the voice into the light, they saw who was speaking to them. They had seen someone like him before – at Jesus’ own resurrection. It was an angel. An angel of God. The angel said to them, “Go, stand in the temple courts, and tell the people the full message of this new life.” Then, he was gone. And as the sunrise began to peek over the east side of the city, the disciples were faced with a choice: Go home, hide, run away, stay quiet, or…listen to God – and do the exact same thing that had gotten them into trouble in the first place.
To them, the choice was easy.
“At daybreak they entered the temple courts, as they had been told, and began to teach the people.”
I. Our Culture Says, “Be Timid”
I’m not so sure that Christians are as bold today.
I was at a wedding not that long ago. It was a Christian wedding. In Christianity, we tach that Jesus is the center of a successful marriage. I was expecting the preaching to talk about Jesus being the center of the marriage.
But at the end of the ceremony, the number of times Jesus was mentioned? Zero.
Christ? One time – in passing.
To be fair the phrase “Eternal God” was used a lot of times, but you can imagine why. The pastor didn’t want to offend anyone. By mentioning the generic “god” then no one is offended. No one could accused this service of being “Christian.”
That’s not so bold.
But I think there's a reason this pastor was timid. It's the way our culture reacts to the word "Jesus." Have you ever noticed that? You can talk about religious thought. You can mention a "Divine Being." It's not a big deal to say "God."
But as soon as you mention Jesus...
Take Caitlin Jenner. Jenner won an ESPY award this past week for courage. Twitter was filled with congratulations! “Way to go.” “Way to be brave.” “Thanks for being bold.” The Twittervese was thankful that Jenner stood up for beliefs.
This is the exact same Twitterverse that three years ago saw Tim Tebow bow his head in prayer after scoring a touchdown, step in front of the cameras and say, “Thanks and glory be to Jesus,” and Twitter replied, “Shut up!” “Stop talking about your Christianity!” “Get your beliefs out of my face.”
This is American society. A place of free speech. A place that hates it when you talk about Jesus. They would rather you “Be silent,” “Keep your religion to yourself,” and “Leave Jesus out of it!”
That’s not bold. That’s timid.
But should we be surprised? Silencing Christianity might seem like a modern thought. But it isn’t. Look at what the local Pharisees do in response to Peter and John’s temple talk. They arrested them the first time. Then, after being encouraged by the angel to speak again – the Pharisees do the same thing. They arrested Peter and John again.
What’s interesting is what Scripture describes as the reasons for what they did. Check out Acts 4:2 when they first find out what Peter and John are doing. “They were greatly disturbed because the apostles were teaching the people and proclaiming in Jesus the resurrection of the dead.” Do you see why they didn’t like the message? Because instead of facing sin and then hearing the Gospel message, they were scared by the implications. “If Christ was raised, then what have we done? We killed him! We will have to face God for what we’ve done.”
Does finding out that you killed God’s sound like a pleasant experience? Not so much.
It’s why they were doubly furious when they found the disciples the day after the prison break preaching the exact same message in the temple courts. 5:28 says, “The apostles were brought in and made to appear before the Sanhedrin to be question by the high priest. “We gave you strict orders not to teach in his name,” he said. “Yet you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching and are determined to make us guilty of this man’s blood.”
None of those Pharisees are alive anymore. There isn't anyone still living who literally used their voice to shout for Jesus’ death. There aren’t any Roman soldiers around who literally swung the hammer.
But they are plenty around who killed him. Plenty who killed God’s Son.
1 Peter 3:18 says this, “Christ died for sins once for all.”
That’s a scary thought. It means our sins (my sins) are what put Jesus on the cross. It's because of my lust, my hatred, my gossip, and my greed that God's Son died.
It's a scary enough thought that many refuse to believe it.
They hate to hear it.
They want it to be silenced.
And that’s sad. Sad because that’s not the end of the message.
II. Counter Culture says, “Be Bold”
Back in the courtroom, John looked around at the many eyes glaring at them. The tension was palatable. A drop of sweat fell down Peter’s beard.
Maybe they should be quiet before it cost them their lives.
John swallowed. He looks at Peter. Their eyes met and they spoke boldly, “We must obey God rather than men! The God of our ancestors raised Jesus from the dead—whom you killed by hanging him on a cross. God exalted him to his own right hand as Prince and Savior that he might bring Israel to repentance and forgive their sins.”
Talk about bold. Notice how Peter and John not only say, “We’re not going to listen,” but they begin to preach the very thing that God them into trouble in the first place in front of the very people that had gotten them into trouble in the first place.
Why were the disciples so bold? Their speech gives us two reasons:
1) For the Sake of God
It’s a powerful statement. They knew that ultimately they answered to God. Not the Pharisees. Not the Sadducees. Not any members of those angry men glaring at them.
They answered to Jesus.
Jesus had been powerfully protecting his followers for centuries. When three men refused to bow down to a golden statue and were thrown into a fiery furnace as a result, God kept them from having even a hair on their heads singed. When Daniel refused to pray to anyone but the true God, God calmed the stomachs of the hungry lions who were supposed to viciously attack him. When Hezekiah dutifully prayed to God for help, when the Assyrian siege called for Him to denounce God and give up – God silent, quietly, removed that threat before the light of the next dawn.
And Jesus? They had seen him die for being bold – for boldly saying that if they killed him, he would rise again.
With such a powerful God on their side, how could the disciples do anything but speak his truth.
How can you do anything but speak the truth? Remember: You’ve got the same big, all powerful, all loving, all wise God on your side. He is your Creator, Redeemer, and Protector. He is the one you answer to. Not the media. Not your Facebook friends. Not your coworkers. Not the Twitterverse. Not a group of angry scientists. Not the talking heads on TV. Not the government. Not the homosexual agenda. Not even your own family.
Jesus is our leader. Jesus is our Savior. “We Must obey God rather than men!”
2) For the Sake of Those that want us to be Timid
But God isn’t the only reason that we speak boldly. Take a look at the rest of Acts 5 in your bulletin, “The God of our ancestors raised Jesus from the dead—whom you killed by hanging him on a cross.” We’ve heard that before. But now look at the end game for the disciples. “God exalted him to his own right hand as Prince and Savior that he might bring Israel to repentance and forgive their sins.”
The Pharisees were Israelites. So were the Sadducees. This means that the very men who were considering putting Peter and John to a violent end – were the very people that Peter and John were trying to save!
When I was younger, I hated Robitussin. For whatever reason, I remember needing it a lot. It tasted awful. I used to close my mouth and bite my lips so that I wouldn't have to put it on my taste buds.
But my mom always insisted. Then, I’d get better. I’d be healed.
As bitter as it may be to hear the truth about sin, eternity, and Jesus as the only Savior, it is also the only way for salvation. This is why we must be bold. We know how helpful the medicine is. (We know the medicine of Jesus is the ONLY medicine!) We must be bold for the sake of the very people who want us to NOT be bold! To bring them peace. To bring the forgiveness. To bring them heavenly joy. To bring them a promise of eternity.
To bring them to God.
Who do you know? Who needs to hear about Jesus? Who needs to hear about their Savior? Who’s hurting? Who is feeling shame? Who is struggling with guilt? Your co-workers? Your friends? Your neighbor? Your kids? Your wife?
Be bold. Tell them about Jesus. Tell them about how he lived perfectly. Tell them about how he died innocently. Tell them about how he rose triumphantly to save you from your sins. Be bold. Amen.
The other day I was waiting for somebody to pick me up at our apartment.
I was certain that they wouldn't come for a while though, so I was on the couch in my Green Bay Packer Zubaz sweatpants lounging and eating a bag of chips.
Then, there was a knock at the door.
I brushed off the chip crumbs and hobbled embarrassedly to the door. I opened it a crack and told him I'd be out in a few minutes. I ran to the bedroom threw on some jeans and hustled outside.
Good thing he wasn't in a hurry, because I wasn't ready.
Jesus told a similar parable:
1 “At that time the kingdom of heaven will be like ten virgins who took their lamps and went out to meet the bridegroom. 2 Five of them were foolish and five were wise. 3 The foolish ones took their lamps but did not take any oil with them. 4 The wise ones, however, took oil in jars along with their lamps. 5 The bridegroom was a long time in coming, and they all became drowsy and fell asleep.
6 “At midnight the cry rang out: ‘Here’s the bridegroom! Come out to meet him!’
7 “Then all the virgins woke up and trimmed their lamps. 8 The foolish ones said to the wise, ‘Give us some of your oil; our lamps are going out.’
9 “ ‘No,’ they replied, ‘there may not be enough for both us and you. Instead, go to those who sell oil and buy some for yourselves.’
10 “But while they were on their way to buy the oil, the bridegroom arrived. The virgins who were ready went in with him to the wedding banquet. And the door was shut.
11 “Later the others also came. ‘Lord, Lord,’ they said, ‘open the door for us!’
12 “But he replied, ‘Truly I tell you, I don’t know you.’
13 “Therefore keep watch, because you do not know the day or the hour. (Matthew 25)
One needs to understand the way things worked in first century Jewish weddings. The virgins were basically bridesmaids and they weren't yet at the wedding celebration. They were waiting for the groom to come and pick them up. In order to make it easy for the groom to identify them, they would carry lamps (think torches) that were fueled by oil. When the groom saw these lamps, he would know whom he needed to bring to the wedding.
The wise ones made sure they had enough oil to be ready. The foolish ones did not and they missed out on everything!
The way Jesus takes us to his heavenly banquet works a little differently. It has nothing to do with oil and fire and everything to do with faith in his Son, Jesus Christ as our Savior.
But faith isn't just something where you close your eyes, clench your fists, and think "I believe" as hard as you can. It's not something that you "earn" once and then have for the rest of your life. Faith needs to be fed. Just like those lamps needed oil to stay burning so our faith needs fuel to stay burning.
Only the fuel isn't kerosene. It's God's Word.
How are you at keeping your faith burning? Do you run to God's Word on a daily basis? Do you take advantage of opportunities to hear His Word at your church? Do you have a Bible study you attend? Or devotionals sent to you on a daily basis?
There is nothing more important.
Sometimes we get to thinking: "I need to go to exercise, make breakfast, go to work, drop the kids off at softball, get a haircut, and read two hours worth of blogs on Facebook or my day isn't complete!"
Yet there is often something conspicuously absent from that list. Let's rethink that. If you don't remember to feed your faith, your day isn't complete.
Your faith needs to be fed the nutrients of God's promises, the vitamins of God's guidance, and the assurance of God's forgiveness. Why go a day without it?
Jesus could return at any time. Repent and turn to his Word. He will create a burning fire in your heart. The Holy Spirit will feed your faith. The Lord Jesus Christ will personally come and escort you home to heaven.
Even if you're wearing Green Bay Packer Zubaz Pants.